Sign-ups still open: Seward to hold snowball fight-like tournament

Yukigassen being played in Anchorage's 2011 Fur Rondy festival (Credit: Visit Anchorage/Roy...
Yukigassen being played in Anchorage's 2011 Fur Rondy festival (Credit: Visit Anchorage/Roy Neese)(Visit Anchorage/Roy Neese)
Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 3:15 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A Japanese wintertime sport not played much in the U.S. is coming to Seward this weekend. Yukigassen is a cross between a snowball fight, dodgeball and capture the flag.

According to Yukigassen International, the game is basically a snowball fight. The team with the most people left at the end of three minutes wins the set, or the team who captures the opponents flag first wins. Teams start with seven people and the court has barriers participants can hide behind.

Jose Vacabustamante, an assistant at Seward Sports and Recreation, said it’s an official sport. Players even need a snowball press that’s directly imported from Japan. The Seward Parks and Recreation Department is borrowing theirs from Anchorage.

“They require a certain type of snowballs, the measurements have to be exactly the same. Each team has to have exactly the same amount of snowballs. It’s more complicated than I thought,” Vacabustamante said. “But it’s great because people that love sports will be really thrilled to start doing that, especially in the winter here in Seward there’s nothing else to to do.”

The department hopes to hold more tournaments through March, Vacabustamante said. The goal is to have enough people interested that the sport can grow in Alaska and eventually a team can represent the U.S.

The first time the game was officially played in the U.S. was at Anchorage’s Fur Rondy in 2011. That year, the winners even got a chance to compete in the world championships in Japan, according to news reports at the time.

The sport was a part of Fur Rondy’s events through 2015, John McCleary, the festival’s executive director, said. But the city’s dry wintertime climate created sugar-like snow and difficulties making snowballs.

“The snow basically loses its moisture, and so we actually ended up having to actually add water to the snow to try to make our snowballs,” McCleary said. “Then we also found that when you have that, and you’re dealing with 10 degree, five degree, zero degree weather, the slushy snowballs turn into ice balls.”

Vacabustamante is optimistic about Seward’s climate. He said the average winter temperature is in the window for good snowball making.

“Fur Rendezvous has always been open to innovative, unique winter-fun activities that engages people,” McCleary said. “And Yuki was one of those that, like the outhouse races, is so different, that it just became a natural. But Mother Nature was not wanting have Yuki in Anchorage. So we’ll take a take a rain check, and we’ll let Seward Parks and Rec lead the way.”

The round-robin style tournament in Seward is Feb. 28 at Jon Perry Field at 2 p.m. An individual can register for $5 or a team of at least 7 can register for $35.

People from outside of Seward are encouraged to join in the fun. All needed equipment is provided. Participants just need to register and show up.

Fur Rondy starts Thursday with the World Championship Outdoor Hockey Tournament. Events conclude March 8.

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